Welcome to the third and final part of this series on losing weight easily and living a happy, healthy, green life. Part 1 was about eating habits that promote healthy & sustainable living; that also help you lose and maintain your weight in the long term. Part 2 was about increasing physical activity levels without working out.
Part 3 is about sleep quality, quantity and reducing stress levels. Remember, there are four interconnected pillars when it comes to losing weight. The pillars are: food choices, activity levels, sleep (quality & quantity) and stress levels. These four parts of our lives also play a huge role in our overall health and happiness. For example if we are tired and stressed our food choices are often negatively affected. Being physically active can help improve our sleep and reduce stress. Eating healthy foods at the right time can help our stress levels, sleep and desire to be active.
Stress, Sleep and Weight Loss
What has reducing stress and getting a good night’s sleep has got to do with losing weight?
When we are stressed and sleep deprived, many body systems are affected including our hormones and gut bacteria. These hormones (insulin, leptin, ghrelin, cortisol) can affect the foods we crave, how our bodies store food and how much energy is extracted from our food.
Here is a brief list of some ways stress and sleep work against us when we are trying to lose weight.
- When you are stressed you get a burst of adrenalin. This taps stored energy so you can flee or fight. You also get a surge of cortisol which can make you hungry. Cortisol can also trigger us to store fat around the belly area.
- The body treats a lack of sleep as a stressor. This can affect cortisol levels, appetite and glucose levels.
- We tend to eat food more quickly when under stress, this means that we often eat more food, especially if we have large portions on our plates.
- Dieting can be a stressor and constant dieting can make cortisol levels rise. This also affects your blood sugar and insulin levels and can make you hungry and crave carbohydrates.
- There also appears to be link between how much energy your gut bacteria extracts from your food (more) and being sleep deprived.
To test if you think you are sleep deprived, click this link to try this quick test from the BBC television program The Truth About Sleep with Michael Mosley for more information.
Food, Stress and Sleep
We all know there is no magic solution to reduce stress and improve sleep quality. But, some of the habits listed in part 1 and 2 of this series will help. Food and eating habits definitely have an effect both on sleep and coping with stress.
I have certainly found that what and when I eat and drink have a big impact on my sleep patterns. Eating a large meal, high calorie foods or chocolate within a couple hours of my bedtime leads to a very disturbed night for me. Drinking alcohol or anything with caffeine in it within a few hours of bedtime will also give me a disturbed night.
When I am tired and stressed, my strategy for combating my cravings for chocolate, and sweet baked goods are to try to eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Sweet fruits are filling while satisfying my sweet cravings and vegetables keep me full and are highly nutrient dense with low caloric density. If this doesn’t work a piece of homemade whole grain bread often hits the spot and…when all this fails then the chocolate comes out.
Exercise, Stress and Sleep
Physical activity can give you instant stress relief, my preferred activity types when I am stressed are walking and high intensity interval training (HIIT).
Walking outdoors gives me a real mental boost as well as the physical benefits of exercise, this reduces the stress hormone cortisol too.
A high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout makes me work so hard that after 20-30 minutes I feel much more relaxed and energised.
Other solutions that are featured in my e-book 21 Steps to a Happier, Healthier, Greener You that can help with stress reduction and restoring sleep patterns are: spending time outside and being present and engaged.
Spending Time Outdoors
There are huge benefits to spending time outdoors, even for a short time. Some of the many benefits of spending time outside are: breathing cleaner air, getting vitamin D from sunlight, promoting memory, vision and focus, improved overall feelings of well-being and reduced anxiety.
Spending time outside on a daily basis may also help people stay healthy and functioning longer. I know that being able to take a phone call outside or go out for a ten minute break makes a big difference to my happiness and productivity.
Getting outside also makes exercise seem easier, there is always something new to see, hear and feel. In the cold winters a lot of people are tempted to just stay indoors but the best way to deal with winter is to go outside, explore and have fun.
Be Present and Engaged
Time is the most precious thing in life, yet we often fill our days with busyness and activities do not offer us any real benefits. Despite having many appliances and devices that are supposed to save us time, we tend to be constantly busy, stressed and distracted.
The digital world we live in offers us a lot of benefits. There are however, definite downsides to excess consumption of the digital world. It can negatively affect our sleep patterns, mood, make our lives feel inadequate. We may spend hours jumping from one site or feed to another, constantly shopping online or searching for products, never feeling satisfied with what we have compared to others.
There are activities that can protect you from daily screen time, according to Victoria L. Dunckley M.D. in a blog post for Psychology Today. Some of these activities are: increasing exposure to greenery, nature and sunlight; incorporating more movement exercise and free play; engaging in creative play, practicing mindfulness; and mimicking nature’s day/night light cycles as closely as possible.
This list is awesome because these are activities that are great for our overall health and it means that something as simple as going for a walk outside, will not only help you lose weight, and lower your stress levels, it also protects you from your screen time.
Putting It All Together
Losing weight can be a really difficult challenge.
In order to achieve long lasting success you have to take into account that you are a whole person. Remember that your food choices, activity levels, sleep (quality & quantity) and stress levels all matter and work together to achieve success.
Although following the ideas in this blog post series, does not guarantee you will lose weight depending on existing health condition and other factors, it is highly likely that you will. At a minimum you will feel healthier and better in yourself.
Here’s to your health, happiness and living sustainably.